Braves get Ohman, Infante from Cubs
Lefty reliever, utility infielder help round out Atlanta's roster
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Based on the rapid roster reconstruction that he's completed during his first two months on the job, there isn't any reason to completely rule out the possibility that Braves general manager Frank Wren will eventually fill his desire to find a more experienced option in center field.
In fact, with a trade he completed with the Cubs on Tuesday, Wren erased two of his four roster needs and consequently put himself in position where he can place all of his attention toward finding a center fielder who would provide more experience than either Josh Anderson or Jordan Schafer.
While it still appears landing a short-term center fielder via trade will prove difficult, Wren no longer has to worry about finding a left-handed reliever or a utility infielder. He erased these needs by sending right-handed reliever Jose Ascanio to the Cubs in exchange for veteran reliever Will Ohman and the versatile Omar Infante.
"These are two guys that fit exactly what we were looking for," said Wren, who on Monday had expressed that he was determined to fill at least one of his roster needs before this week's Winter Meetings conclude on Thursday.
With Ohman, the Braves gain an affordable left-hander whose splits indicate that he should enjoy not having to pitch in Wrigley Field on a regular basis. As for Infante, he provides a defensive versatility that should allow him to be much more valuable in the National League than he was during his past seasons in Detroit.
"It's not always the big deal that makes your team get over the hump," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "I'm not saying that this is the thing that does. But sometimes these guys that aren't mentioned a lot are your best deals."
Obviously, the revelation of this early Tuesday morning trade didn't rock the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in the same manner that the mentions of Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis and Johan Santana have over the past few days. But this was certainly a deal that gave the Braves the ability to feel they have already reconstructed their roster to the point where they'd be comfortable with it in its current state entering Spring Training.
"I like the club right now a lot," Cox said. "All the pieces are just about there, and no matter what else happens, if we don't do anything else, it's still a good club."
Infante's ability to play six different positions and serve as a backup right-handed hitter lessens the qualifications the Braves will have to place before selecting any of their other bench players. With Anderson and Schafer -- the current top candidates to play center field -- and second baseman Kelly Johnson all being left-handed hitters, the 26-year-old Infante, who hit .271 in 66 games with Detroit last year, provides Cox some more flexibility on days where the club might be facing a top left-handed starting pitcher.
"One of the things we were concerned about coming in here [to the Winter Meetings] was backing up kids with kids," Wren said. "When you have young players at the Major League level, you want to have somebody with experience to back them up and give them a day off."
As for Ohman, he is a 30-year-old reliever whose numbers show that he could prove to be highly reliable now that he's not being employed in the Windy City. In 101 career appearances at Wrigley Field, he's posted a 6.63 ERA, while opponents have hit .276 against him. In 119 road games, he has a 2.32 ERA and seen opponents hit just .192 against him.
"Our scouts really like him," Wren said. "It's one thing when you see a distinct difference in the splits. But when you see it consistently for the past three years, it's the same thing: when he's away from Wrigley Field, he throws really well."
Before the Tigers sent Infante to the Cubs in November, Wren had expressed an interest in him. Wren continued to express that interest to Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, and late Monday night, the two parties began moving forward once they started including Ohman and Infante in the same discussions.
Infante, who began the 2005 season as Detroit's starting second baseman and leadoff hitter, has battled some arm strength issues since being struck with right shoulder tendinitis in 2006. But the Braves' medical personnel didn't view this as a concern, and the club is confident his arm is strong enough that he could be used as a backup for third baseman Chipper Jones when necessary.
With an ability to play six positions, Infante, whose contract the Braves can control for each of the next three seasons, gives Wren the option of looking for another capable pinch-hitter without the restriction of selecting one that can play a specified position.
"He runs well, is versatile and can play everywhere," Cox said of Infante, who has a .253 career batting average. "Those types of guys, especially in our league, are extremely important. He's a great addition and a great fit. He fits perfectly."
While going 2-4 with a 4.95 ERA in 56 appearances with the Cubs in 2007, Ohman surprised the Cubs with the revelation that he had a cranky shoulder, but that doesn't currently concern the Braves.
Wren also said that he isn't concerned about the fact that Ohman allowed right-handed hitters to bat .325 with a .391 on-base percentage. In 220 career appearances, right-handers hit .264 against him, while left-handers compiled just a .196 batting average.
"When you look at his career, other than this year, he's had pretty good success against both lefties and righties," Wren said. "We don't necessarily characterize him as a specialist at all."
Ohman is set to make $1.6 million in the final year of his contract this year. As for Infante, who spent August in the Minors, his $1.3 million salary should realize just a slight increase as an arbitration-eligible player.
Although he posted a 5.06 ERA in 13 appearances with Atlanta in '07, Ascanio drew rave reviews from Cox. The hard-throwing 22-year-old right-hander, who has battled back problems, posted a 2.54 ERA in 44 appearances with Double-A Mississippi this past season.
"We liked Ascanio," Wren said. "He was hard to give up. But if we could fill two needs with our club with players that we liked, it made sense to do. Although talented, [Ascanio] wasn't a player that we thought would be on our  club."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.